The North Carolina Board of Transportation met at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum last Thursday, and Engineer Mike Pettyjohn of Division 11 discussed traffic issues in the High Country and surrounding counties. Division 11 includes eight counties in northwestern North Carolina: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Surry, Yadkin, Watauga and Wilkes counties.
Pettyjohn outlined the five “most pressing needs” for the NCDOT in Division 11: completion of the U.S. 321 widening through Blowing Rock; upgrade of U.S. 321 from Hickory to Lenoir; multi-lane widening of U.S. 221 from US 421 to Jefferson; multi-lane widening of N.C. 105 from Boone to Linville; and multi-lane widening of N.C. 268 from North Wilkesboro to Airport Road. He didn’t mention any time frames on the projects.
“These are our priorities at this time,” Pettyjohn said. “We want a four-lane route within 10 miles of every home.
Petttyjohn said the three main traffic generators in Division 11 include tourism, agriculture and interstate commerce.
To address tourism’s traffic needs in the High Country, he said the U.S. 321 widening needs to be completed, and N.C. 105 and U.S. 221 need to be upgraded and expanded to four lanes. Outside of the High Country but within Division 11, Pettyjohn said I-74 in between Mt. Airy and Winston Salem needs completion as well.
“On N.C. 105 from Linville and back to Boone, as the area continues to grow, the need is there to improve that facility as well,” Pettyjohn said.
To address the High Country’s traffic needs derived from agriculture and in particular Christmas trees, Pettyjohn said U.S. 221 in between Jefferson and Deep Gap needs to be completed and, as noted earlier, expanded into four lanes for both tourism and agriculture.
“We see a lot of trees leaving this area for Christmas,” Pettyjohn said.
Outside of the High Country, Pettyjohn mentioned that U.S. 21 needs upgrades and N.C. 89 needs safety improvements to address Division 11’s agriculture needs.
Pettyjohn said the completion of I-74 and a rehabilitation of I-77 will address interstate commerce traffic needs.
Pettyjohn added that a lack of rail service places an extra burden on truck traffic, especially since it’s difficult to navigate 53-foot trailers on mountain roads.
“Rail is not a big thing up here. We don’t have a lot of rail and that kind of compounds some of our problems,” Pettyjohn said. “We are able to get 53-foot trailers through, but a lot of roads aren’t suitable for those long trucks.”
Division 11 has 6,040 miles of road, 1,319 bridges, 455 culverts and 1,100 pieces of DOT equipment while employing 635 permanent positions and 31 temporary employees.